Thoughts and prayers — that's what's being offered in the wake of the mass shooting in Texas. But here's the truth: Thoughts and prayers are offered in lieu of real effort and meaningful change. To cover up the fact that we can save lives and prevent the daily horror of gun violence and the uniquely American phenomenon of repeated mass shootings.
Thoughts and prayers are meant to comfort, and they can and do. Especially when offered sincerely, and by those close to those who are suffering most.
But I've worked with enough survivors and victims — of mass shootings, random homicides, suicides, and unintentional shootings — to confidently say this: Enough with the thoughts and prayers. Those thoughts and prayers seem never to include thoughts about how to prevent the next shooting, how to make sure the next person intent on doing harm doesn't get that gun or those bullets.
Gun violence is a complicated problem, but it's not rocket science. It's a combination of criminal behavior, law enforcement, regulatory structures, economic challenges, mental health issues, social and cultural factors. It demands a multi-faceted approach.
Here's the simple truth: We have too many guns, and it's too easy for people who shouldn't have them to get them. We can address that right now. We can expand the background check system, which blocks sales to people who shouldn't have guns. We can close loopholes that allow people to get guns without background checks. We can have a whole new conversation about what kinds of guns should be available to civilians and whether different regulatory schemes should be in place for obtaining different kinds of guns. We can start regulating the all-but-currently-unregulated sale of ammunition. We can ban things like bump stocks that make already deadly weapons even more efficient killing machines. And we can erect a system that notifies law enforcement when people are amassing arsenals of weapons and ammunition in a short time frame.
There is virtually no other problem that we allow to fester and grow as we do gun violence in America. We now lose close to 100 people a day to guns. When did we decide that was acceptable? The history of America is to solve problems, do things better, build a better mouse trap. Because of the innovations in automobile and highway safety, we now have fewer auto deaths in PA (and several other states) every year than gun deaths. We have turned a blind eye to those gun deaths, somehow convinced that we can't do anything about it. That is shameful, unacceptable, and wrong.
Things must change, and they must change now. If you're not part of the solution, if this isn't an issue on your radar, if you've been offering thoughts and prayers and nothing else, you're part of the problem. Gun violence must be a voting issue for you, and you must vote on it every time. Ask every elected official who represents you — and every candidate who wants to represent you — where they stand on the policies outlined above and what their plan is for making your community safer. Don't give a pass to someone who's good on some other issue you care about but who doesn't sponsor the bipartisan background check bills in Harrisburg and D.C.
We don't need thoughts and prayers. We need action, money, and votes. Our elected officials have been getting away with thoughts and prayers — and silence and inaction — for far too long. So, elected officials, consider yourself on notice: If you're not thinking of action, praying for change, and taking steps to make it a reality, you're not doing anything. And we're going to hold you accountable.
Some will undoubtedly say it's too soon to talk about this, and we don't have all the facts. I disagree — we have no time to waste. We can't afford it. As we've waited, and sent thoughts and prayers, more have died, and the NRA has continued to advance its agenda of guns for anyone, anywhere, anytime. That agenda is failing us. We all have blood on our hands, and thoughts and prayers won't wash it away.
Let's honor those already lost and suffering with action that will save lives.
Shira Goodman is the executive director of CeaseFirePA, Pennsylvania's gun violence prevention organization. www.ceasefirepa.org